culture, history, What I am reading

What I am reading… Weber’s iron cage and prophecy of cultural demise

Two passages from Max Weber’s The Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism:

“The Puritan wanted to work in a calling; we are forced to do so. For when asceticism was carried out of monastic cells into everyday life, and began to dominate worldly morality, it did its part in building the tremendous cosmos of the modern economic order. This order is now bound to the technical and economic conditions of machine production which today determine the lives of all the individuals who are born into this mechanism, not only those directly concerned with economic acquisition, with irresistible force. Perhaps it will so determine them until the last ton of fossilized coal is burnt. In Baxter’s view the care for external goods should only lie on the shoulders of the “saint like a light cloak, which can be thrown aside at any moment”. 114 But fate decreed that the cloak should become an iron cage.”


No one knows who will live in this cage in the future, or whether at the end of this tremendous development entirely new prophets will arise, or there will be a great rebirth of old ideas and ideals, or, if neither, mechanized petrification, embellished with a sort of convulsive self-importance. For of the last stage of this cultural development, it might well be truly said: “Specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart; this nullity imagines that it has attained a level of civilization never before achieved.”

Which world have we inherited? That of a great birth of old ideas and ideals, which I search for, long for, mourn for; or more likely the world of cultural decay that is known through mechanised petrifaction, embellished with a sort of convulsive self-importance?

Leave a Reply